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Sigma Movie Theater Historic Building in 1950s Downtown Lima Ohio Photo

When I stumbled on this neat street scene photo of busy Main St., Lima, Ohio, it reminded me of my vintage postcard (enlarged, below). The person who posted the photo dated it circa 1955. 

At first sight, I thought it might actually be 1943, as you can see on the Warner's Sigma movie theater marquee that they are putting up the sign for The Outlaw, with Jane Russell, "1943's Most Exciting New Screen Star". 

Of course, the ''scandalous'' heaving breasts of Jane Russell caused such a controversy that The Outlaw was only in theaters for one week in 1943. It was pulled due to violations of the Production Code.  

The Outlaw was released to a few theaters in 1945 and 1946, eventually reaching smaller cities for its first screening as late as 1950.

We might then think this is a 1950 photo -- but... my research on the Sigma Theater revealed that the Sigma's glory faded, and it became a 2nd-run house in the 1950s and 1960's. 

The photo has a cool vintage bus, clearly marked Lima Transit Co. By 1940, Lima's electric streetcars had been totally abandoned, and the Lima City Lines became the Lima Transit Company in 1951. [Source]

Given that the photo's owner is a vintage bus afficionado, thus we can assume he knows his bus makes and years (which I do not!), and adding in my research, I'd say he's correct that it is circa 1955. 

Even though the 1955 photo isn't too sharp, you can make out several Lima businesses.

In addition to the Sigma Theater, noticeable are:
  • Love Jewelers
  • Armstrong and Sons / Rowland Furniture
  • And a large ad on the side of the bus for Zender Music Store
 Here's what I found about those businesses...

The Sigma's location is an office building today.

About the Warner's Sigma Movie Theater
  • The Empire Theater opened in 1911. The building was called The Collins Block.
  • Around 1919 it was enlarged and re-named Sigma Theater
  • In the 1920s, the Ritzler family got involved. This family ran Lima Theatrical Enterprises / Lima-Ritz Theatre Corp., and operated the Sigma, Lyric, State and Faurot Opera House

The Sigma's wonderful arches (later hidden behind marquees), all lighted up to show Von Stroheim's 1924 silent film GREED.

  • The theater was remodeled again in the 1930s when the family entered into a contract with Warner Brothers Theaters, hence the addition of Warners to the name - now it was the Warner's Sigma.
  • By 1941 it was operated by Warner Bros. Circuit Management Corp. 
  • It was badly damaged by a fire on March 1, 1949.

  • They rebuilt, and had a grand reopening in April 1950, showing Alfred Hitchcock's Stage Fright.
  • It fell on hard times in the 1960s, struggling to find its place among the second-run theaters. The nearby Ohio Theater screened first-run films, while the Sigma specialized in older films with smaller admissions.
Later, the Sigma was called Cinema 1 -- note the X-rated titles on the marquee.
  • In the 1970s, the Sigma was bought by William Dakota. 
  • The name was changed to Cinema 1 and showed X-rated films.
  • Dakota then sold to Harold Mahoney, who also showed porno films. Did he change name back to Sigma, as this website suggests? 

  • The theater closed in late 1970's.
  • Around the same time, the Ohio Theater, two blocks away also closed, as did the Quilna Theater and Ranger Theater, leaving downtown Lima with no operating movie theaters.
  • In 1981, the Sigma theatre space was converted to offices for the Ohio Bureau of Workers' Compensation, and St. Rita's Medical Center bought it in 1996.
  • Sources: CinemaTreasures.org and LimaOhio.com 

The dramatic arches are still there. The building is now in the Historic Registry as ''Locally significant''. 

The architecture is said to be ''Sullivanesque'', referring to Chicago's famous architect Louis Sullivan. You can see the arches, for example, in his Roosevelt Auditorium.

Zender-Kahn Music Store sign

Zender Music Store

Lima's pioneer musician and band leader, Anthony Peter (Tony) Zender, 1865-1950
  • An accomplished musician, Mr. Zender played the cornet and violin. He lived in Kenton for a number of years where he taught music, owned a music store and organized the Second Regiment band.
  • At the solicitation of the Lima Progressive-assn, Mr. Zender established a cigar factory in Lima, known as Tony Zender Cigar Co., in order to provide local employment for musicians whose services were needed in the Lima Merchants band. The factory was located at Wayne and Main-sts.
  • His music store was in the Masonic-bldg and later on N. Main-st. Three years ago, he sold Zender's Music store to Henry Armentrout, 636 W. Grand-av, but the store still bears his name and now is located on E. High-st.
  • According to Allen County History [Available as a free ebook], Tony Zender bought the Starr Piano Company store in 1907:
  • Coming from there to Lima in 1906, Mr. Zender established the "Tony Zender Cigar Factory" on North Main Street, and managed it until 1914, when he sold it. He had previously organized the Lima City Band, and in 1907 had bought the Starr Piano Company's store on West High Street. Succeeding well in the management of his affairs, Mr. Zender found that his business required more commodious quarters, and in 1910 moved to North Market Street, and in 1916 assumed possession of his present place of business on North Main Street, where he has the largest store of the kind in the city. Mr. Zender, who holds a distinguished position among the leading musicians of Allen County


For Love Jewelers, all I was able to find were several Lima News and local yearbook ads. But one ad did tell me the store was owned by Irv Stillman, which led me to find his full name, Irvin J. Stillman in a 1961 ambulence report, but then the trail goes cold - no pun intended, as that was probably the end of Mr. Stillman and Love's. At least it appears he led a long successful life.

As for Armstrong and Sons, they were from a well established local family (see Armstrongs / Allen Cty.) They owned a furniture store for a long time, moving to the 57 Public Square location in 1934.

Way up high on the side of the building, above the Armstrong store, you can see a painted ad for Rowlands, a competing furniture store. They had a location farther up Main Street, and were in business from at least 1898. I found a 1953 announcement of ''Ex-furniture man'' Bob Breckenridge selling his Rowlands Store to Don Armstrong.

Don then apparently closed/sold out himself in 1977, and the location became ''Home Furniture'', as per above Grand Opening ad. (No other info found).

The location is an office space now, home to Childers Media Group (local radio stations). It was the Ohio State Beauty Academy for many years (they've relocated to the other side of town).


Note: These items are part of my ''Collecting Lima Virtual Museum''. They are not for sale.

If/when I find more information on these items, I will add it to the post.

Read the Introduction to Collecting Lima Virtual Museum Project ~ My Lima Ohio Bottles, Advertising, Antiques

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